Apparently voted third most anticipated zombie film behind Land of the Dead and Resident Evil 3 at moviesonline.ca, the highly anticipated indie zombie film Risen officially wrapped back in April of this year.
A Frame By Frame and Red Trac Productions (in association with Jackalope Entertainment) project, the movie was filmed on HD (the Sony CineAlta HD 900 for all you techy-nerds) and stars GiGi Erneta, Joseph Thackery, Jason Harper, and Steven Lee.
As the post-production and promotion phase kicks in, we managed to track down Dave Winfrey Jr., the Production Designer/Art Director for the film, who also works for UndeadFilms.com
Q. So Dave, do you want to start by telling us a bit about Risen - what the film's about and how the project got off the ground.
A. Absolutely Jim! And thanks for having me over at Eat my brains! Awesome site man.
Risen is going to be a nice change of pace for zombie fans. We were all a super dedicated group of hardcore zombie fans ourselves and we just had to contribute something to the genre we all love. Risen is about a couple named Sam and Jenny Mills. They drop their daughter Anne off at Jenny’s parent’s house to spend the night so they can prepare for Anne’s 2nd birthday and have a little private time together. Sam’s brother Nick crashes their time together with one of his trashy girlfriends and the next morning, the zombie invasion starts. They're desperately trying to get their daughter back for the duration of the movie. It’s really a serious zombie/horror film compared to a lot of the cheesier comedic zombie films that have come out in the last few years.
Risen was written by David Talbot. He’s our Producer/Screen Writer and he was just awesome to work for. It wasn’t a case of us trying to convince the Producer at every turn what we needed to do to make it a great zombie film because he’s a big a fan of our genre as anybody.
Q. Having your screen-writer doubling as your producer must be a bonus - but how did Damon Crump get on board? And which came first, the crew or the financing? Did you make a show reel and court the money man, or is the picture self financed?
Well I imagine David Talbot, our Producer/Screenwriter, wanted someone that wasn’t flying in from ass-crack Hollywood or something to direct our zombie film. Damon was local to Waco and has TONS of experience in the film-making business in different areas. As far as I know this was his first big full length motion picture. To direct I mean. He specializes in action stuff and wants to direct a Bond film one day. I can not say enough great things about Damon. He has to be the greatest Director. He was so laid back and I will probably never work for a nicer guy. It was amazing to watch the way he was so in-sync with our DP John Franklin. Those guys have worked together forever and knew each others every move. It was almost creepy how well they read each other.
There was a modest amount of our budget there from day 1 put up by David Talbot. He started hiring the crew and the Risen army came together. I was one of the earlier crew members hired and David took a big leap of faith in hiring me as Production Designer/Art Director. I really didn’t have anything to show him as far as resumes and such but after a few conversations he liked what he heard and gave me the chance. I gave it all up and worked my ass off for this film and I hope it shows in the end. We pretty much were constantly raising the budget and attempting to get more money to fund our zombie opus. We started getting a nice reputation in certain internet circles and we were very lucky in that the zombie genre pretty much has a built-in fan-base, fully supporting any new zombie film that looks kick-ass. So as we started getting more "word-of-mouth" talk, it was a little easier to approach various investors and get them on board.
We never got a chance to make a "concept trailer" or short to show investors. It was all word-of-mouth. David has some amazing talent in getting us that money. I don’t know what he did or said or who he threatened or what, but that guy got the funding we needed. He took on like 400 extra jobs also to get us rolling.
Q.Wow, sounds like a real labour of love for all involved. Tell us more about the shoot - how long was it? Were the hours gruelling? Did you have any long night shoots at all? And what does the art director do on a set once the shooting starts? Is most of your work done in advance or, come the day, do you end up getting roped into all kinds of behind the scenes work?
A. Our first day of Production was March 5th and the last was somewhere around the 16th or 17th of April. I cant remember because the days just blended together. When you work sometimes 19 hours a day every day of the week it all just blurs. I never knew what day it was or anything. Honestly I NEVER have had a job that required me to work such insane hours and I just loved every second of it. There were a few days where we were just so crunched for time to keep on schedule and get everything we needed at certain locations before we lost them so we had to pull the all night shoot-a-thons. Thank god for Red Bull, I had to drink like 5 at a time but those wore off a little too soon.
Almost all the time I was the first crew member there and the last to leave because my job was setting up and designing the locations and sets. There were the more mundane locations like the principal characters house, the living room, bed room and all that. Then I had the fun ones: the morgue, the military quarantine, the makeshift civic center quarantine, all the good shit. It’s so unbelievably fun just pouring blood all over people and laying body parts around. I would go home every day just COVERED in blood from head to toe. I told this one on UndeadFilms.com and I think it’s a good one for here too. One of those long shooting nights I was driving home covered in fake blood and I was super-duper sleepy. I was swerving around from lack of sleep and a cop pulled me over. He walked up and shined his light on me and saw all the blood. He said something like "What the hell you been doin’ boy?" then he looked in the back seat and saw all the prop weapons covered in blood as well. Baseball bats, crowbars, pool sticks and other things. It freaked him out petty bad. All I remember saying was "Uhhh… it’s for the zombies" and he let me go.
I could never really keep a steady crew to help me since no one was getting paid and almost all of our PAs and Grips were just college students working for free when they didn’t have school or work. Right at the end I had 2 kick-ass assistant Art Directors that I could finally depend on though. Some free advice to any other aspiring Art Directors/Production Designers out there...Be on the lookout for hardworking grips or PAs that wanna jump in the Art Department and always tell them how kick-ass they are doing! Let your troops know how awesome they are because you are gonna make them do some shitty things for the movie!
You always get roped into doing other things that aren’t your job in the Independent film-making world. That’s the nature of the business. You can bitch and complain and say "That’s not my job!" or you can work as a team and get each others back to help get the film completed. I just hate people with egotistical attitudes on the set. I did plenty of things that weren’t required by the Art Department but there were plenty of people that did a lot of Art Department work to help me, and our movie, out.
Q. You got pulled over caked in fake blood and stopped by the cops? That's brilliant!! With all that blood on you did you get the chance to sneak onto film as a zombie extra yourself? And what about the rest of the crew, I bet they fancied a bit of dead-eye wandering every now and again?
Also, as art director I guess your job is to get all the props and stuff set up. Did you ever have the situation where you had to defend props from getting too blood splattered and therefore being no good for retakes? Or was that more of a concern for the costume guy? If you had a costume guy...?
I'm pretty sure everyone that wanted to play a zombie on our crew got to play one. You can never have too many of the walking Undead. Hell, I think I was a zombie about 3 or 4 times, but when I was the living dead it was to fill space, block the glare from parked cars, things like that. I actually had a more significant role. I played REDNECK #2. REDNECK #2 was a hateful, racist, unlikeable ass. It was cool because I got shot at with an actual .45 which is scary as hell. I felt the fragments from the blanks on my face every time we did another take. For some reason I love those mean dickhead characters and this was my chance to be one.
Yes I was the Propmaster. It was a total bitch maintaining those damn props. If the crew wasn’t dicking around and playing with them then the extras were. A few got broken. One of our main special FX makeup girls was playing with a police baton prop and she accidentally broke it even after I kept telling her to stop joking around with them. I should have went and yelled at her but I did the next best thing...I took her to bed! She’s now currently my girlfriend and we're still together and about to work on another film together. That'll teach her to break my props! Now she’s stuck with me forever.
Everyone was pretty good about catching continuity, especially our Script Supervisor. He was badass and caught all of the continuity errors like where blood was supposed to be from the previous shot and everything. THAT is a job I couldn’t do, Script Supervisor. I'm way too much of a spazzer, I just couldn’t keep up with all that.
Q. I always figured zombie movie sets were the ideal place to pick up chicks.
So, you mentioned a new movie, what's next for Dave Winfrey? Are you now commited to a career in film? What would you say to someone who was considering the movie business as a career, from a behind the scenes point of view that is?
Also, you mentioned not being able to pull off script supervisor, but what jobs do appeal to you and why? What's your ideal role? Do you a secret master plan to visual some deep routed ambitions?
Well the next film is a concept trailer for a full-length adaptation of BeoWulf. I believe they are gunning for a 5 million dollar budget. You know it will be fun, but horror is where my heart is. If it were up to me I would do absolutely nothing but the zombie and horror films al my life. Sometimes you have to do the other genres and films you might not originally go for but its all for the good of the industry we're in and eventually you do get to do the ones you really want.
To anyone out there that has a dream of working in the film industry, just go for it. Don't be afraid and just do it. I had to sacrifice pretty much everything I knew or had in my life to work on Risen, I left my job, moved out of my house, pretty much gave up the entire life I knew for that opportunity and I swear to God it was soooo worth it. It was an amazing experience and I met several other contacts that were working on other films and that alone got me the job on BeoWulf. You meet people that remember you if you have a good attitude and work hard, and they'll recommend you for their films.
My ultimate goal is to write and direct my own horror films. I have a million stories and ideas and one day I WILL direct them whether they are short films or full-length or whatever. It’s all coming together for me and it’s because I made such a huge sacrifice to do what I wanted to do more than anything in the world.
Good for you Dave, that's what we like to hear. Have a dream, go for it.
Well on that note, I think we'd better call it a day. Do you have any final notes you want to sign off with?
No man, that’s it. Thanks again so much for this opportunity.
Thanks to you too Dave, and good luck with the film.